Dawes' Taylor Goldsmith talks songwriting, Bon Iver and touring with Alison Krauss
If Dawes were from Athens, Ga., or Austin, Texas, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
But they are from Los Angeles. And because they are from Los Angeles, they are always referred to as A California Band. “'Oh, you have a California thing about you’” — this is what people always told Taylor Goldsmith.
“No, I don’t,” Dawes’ singer and songwriter would reply. “I just write folk songs, and we just play them as a band. 'Yeah, but you like Joni Mitchell, you like Warren Zevon, you like Jackson Browne, you like the Grateful Dead, you like the Band’s self-titled album, you like Neil Young...’ Everything that they would refer to was a record that was made in L.A. With the Band’s self-titled, or with a lot of those artists, I wasn’t even really aware that a lot of them were from L.A.”
Goldsmith asserts that Dawes is all over the map. This spring, they toured with pop singer-songwriter Brett Dennen. This fall, they’ll tour with indie rockers Blitzen Trapper. And in between, they’re touring with folksy bluegrass legends Alison Krauss and Union Station, in a tour that hits Ruth Eckerd Hall on Sunday. (The show is sold out, but click here for details.)
All of the aforementioned bands are good places to start when describing Dawes, whose oldest member is 30 (Goldsmith turns 26 on Tuesday; his younger brother, Griffin, is the band’s drummer; their father is former Tower of Power singer Lenny Goldsmith). Throw in Bruce Springsteen, Gram Parsons, Tom Petty and Robbie Robertson, who earlier this year asked Dawes to be his backing band in concert.
The group’s new CD, Nothing Is Wrong, will appeal to fans of classic rock, alt-country and vintage folk. But will the band appeal to fans of Alison Krauss?
That’s where we started when we got Taylor Goldsmith on the phone recently.
What does it say about Alison Krauss that you guys were invited to open for her on this tour?
It shows she’s open to a lot of different things. A lot of people might not like what we do. But just the fact that she’s open to changing it up — it reminds you why she’s Alison Krauss. When someone asks you who she is, you don’t simply say bluegrass It’s a lot more than that, and I think this is indicative of that.
With Union Station, it seems like there’s a very strong emphasis on craftsmanship.
Definitely. They’re perfect. We feel like we’re in a crash course right now. They’re such incredible players, and to watch them do that every night is really inspiring. Jerry Douglas and all those guys, they’re monsters.
Does it take a shift in mindset to go from playing in giant theaters with Alison Krauss and Union Station to co-headlining a tour with Blitzen Trapper?
Yeah, it definitely changes. With Alison Krauss, there’s a lot of acoustic guitar, there’s a lot of mellow singing. We’re trying to appeal to her audience. She doesn’t even have a drummer for most of her set. It’s a lot softer. If we come out and play a full Dawes rock show, we’ll probably alienate a lot of potential fans. And with Blitzen Trapper, we’ll very much be focused on being a rock show, and keeping the energy high.
You guys have earned a lot of respect from older musicians like Alison Krauss, Jackson Browne and Robbie Robertson. Why is that? How is it that you’ve been able to attract so much attention from artists that you look up to?
I think a lot of it is luck, just knowing people that know other people. I remind myself how grateful and lucky I am every day. We all do. I know a lot of bands that play way better than us, and yet they’re not getting those opportunities. But at the same time, we do have a lot of pride in how we play and the job we do. We also feel like, in this day and age, there are a lot of groups that are (not interested in those gigs).
Like Bon Iver. Justin (Vernon) from Bon Iver is an incredible musician. He’s so, so great. But I would never see him backing up any of those aforementioned artists, because his focuses are something that isn’t relevant to them. With us, I don’t really know how to create a lot of studio magic, how to make a synthesizer make a sound you’ve never heard before. I spend a lot of time learning how to play guitar, and learning more traditional qualities of music-playing. I believe that both are admirable — I feel like he’s created a real incredible soundscape that’s very identifiable, and we definitely learned how to express ourselves through a more traditional approach. That’s one that applies to people like Robbie Robertson and Jackson Browne, and I feel that’s a reason why, once they were introduced to us, (they liked) the idea of playing with us.
Musically — but also just in a life sense — are you a guy who’s more likely to look back, rather than forward?
I don’t know if I’m either. I’m having a great time right now, and we’re definitely not one of the biggest bands in the country, by a long shot. If it were to all end tomorrow, it wouldn’t be about looking back and being like, “Man, it could have been so much more.” I definitely wouldn’t be that guy. I’d be more like, “I had a great time, and I’m very lucky to have experienced some things I wanted to.”
But at the same time, while we’re in it, we definitely have to have goals. We definitely have to figure out what it will take to maintain this lifestyle, and to take it even further. So in that sense, I guess I think of the future. And in most songs, I tend to be pretty reflective, and I think that goes for any songwriter. So yeah, I think I’m a little bit of both. But I focus real hard on trying to remind myself how exciting each day is, and stay in that, and not look at these crazy situations that I find myself in, and being like, “This is so enjoyable.” It’s not about, “This’ll be a fun story to tell,” or it’s not about, “I can’t wait until tomorrow, when we get to do this other thing.” It’s more just like, “Look at what we’re doing right now.”
Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?
Oh, I was like 12. I had a crush on some girl at school. It was terrible. I had learned like three chords on guitar, and I was like, “I’ll write a song now!” So that’s what I did.
What was it called?
Oh, it was something like, “Why Don’t You Like Me?” or something. It was terrible. As it should be at that age. Maybe some guys at 12 can write something good. But I sure couldn’t.
The songs on Nothing Is Wrong, you seem to write from different perspectives, almost from song to song. Is that a literary technique?
Yeah, it’s something that I’m conscious of. Like, I love Fleetwood Mac. And whenever I listen to a Christine McVie song, every single time, she’s speaking from her point of view to the band. It’s always, “I love you, I need you, I miss you, I want you,” whatever. And eventually I lose track of what separates her songs from each other. That’s something that I feel like Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham really help out with, because they change the perspectives of the album. That’s something I really wanted to make sure I didn’t do to much, because it’s easy to do. I definitely try to find unique perspectives, like talk about this experience I went through, after it happened, to someone else that wasn’t even part of it. Or to tell a story that I wasn’t a part of at all, and to create characters that are not me. Or just to create names. Or just do exactly what (McVie) did, and speak from me to her, and really just break it down simply like that. That’s always something I’ve always tried to stay conscious of.
Do you have a favorite member of Fleetwood Mac?
I guess it’s Lindsay Buckingham, just because he’s so crazy. When I listen to Tusk and I listen to his harmonic sensibility, and the harmonies he put together, and the guitarwork he would do, it’s like, Wow, this guy doesn’t give a s--- about being the biggest band in the world, and yet he can’t help it. He ends up being the best pop act there is. All he’s trying to do is just be a weird, incredible musician. And he’s doing both at the same time. I don’t know if any musician, other than he Beatles, have been able to do that to the same extent he has. But at the same time, he doesn’t have those words that Stevie Nicks has, and her lyrics are so awesome. That combination is so rad.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*